People’s Media: Looking Backward to Move Forward

Assessing the Pan-African News Wire and other electronic media outlets within a historical and contemporary context

Abayomi Azikiwe

By Abayomi Azikiwe, Editor,

Note: This paper was prepared and delivered in part to a panel at the Union for Democratic Communications (UDC) national conference which was held at Wayne State University in Detroit during the weekend of September 30-October 1, 2016. Other panelists in this roundtable were Zenobia Jeffries of Yes! Magazine; Prof. Charles Simmons, retired from Eastern Michigan University and a former senior correspondent for the Muhammad Speaks newspaper in the 1960s and 1970s; Peter Werbe of the Fifth Estate and radio broadcaster in the city for years; and Reginald Carter, former managing editor of the South End and editor staff member of the Inner City Voice.
Introduction: The Social Need for Independent Media

This conference of the Union of Democratic Communicators is well served by holding this gathering in the city of Detroit during this important period.

Detroit for the more than 180 years has been a center in the movements for the abolition of slavery and national oppression as a major conduit within what became known as the Underground Railroad. One of the first urban rebellions in the history of the United States occurred here in 1833 around the threat of sending Lucie, the wife of Thornton Blackburn, back into slavery in the South. After escaping from detention in Detroit they fled to Windsor, Ontario across the River. Their legal case established Canada as a refuge for Africans fleeing from involuntary servitude in the U.S.

Africans in Detroit in 1833 had threatened to burn down the city if this couple was turned over to slave catchers. Even though there was slavery in the formerly French and British territory and the history of Native removal warrants a separate panel to review, events surrounding the Blackburn saga has served to shape a method in which the political outlook of Africans in Detroit can be viewed extending to the modern period.

As it relates to media, the African population during slavery began to create its own communication mechanism through various forms. There were institutions which arose in the religious area that were independent in character and anti-slavery.

Some of the earliest of these institutions being the First African Baptist Church of the Southeast of the U.S. beginning in the late 18th century. Later the more well-known African Methodist Episcopal Church grew out of the African Society of Philadelphia led by Richard Allen, Sarah Allen and Absalom Jones.

In 1827 the Freedom Journal was founded in New York City under the leadership of Samuel Cornish and John Russworm. According to the Black Past website, “Freedom’s Journal was the first African American owned and operated newspaper in the United States. A weekly four column publication printed every Friday. Freedom’s Journal was founded by free born African Americans John Russwurm and Samuel Cornish on March 16, 1827 in New York City, New York. The newspaper contained both foreign and domestic news, editorials, biographies, births and deaths in the local African American community, and advertisements. Editorials deriding slavery, racial discrimination, and other injustices against African Americans were aimed at providing a counterweight to many of the white newspapers of the time period which openly supported slavery and racial bias….”

…. Nonetheless, the new technology does not create conditions for the dismissal of tried and tested technics of organizing and mobilizing. The need for one-on-one contacts, sit-down meetings, and the deliberate physical confrontation with adversaries within the corporate structures and the capitalist state are still required to make effective change and to conduct meaningful political education.

This is why the discipline of organization remains a necessity. In our view the intellectual and ideological methodology of Marxism cannot be severed from the Leninist view of revolutionary organization deriving from a clear understanding as it relates to the role of the capitalist state ….

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